My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE
THE HOLY APOSTLES PETER AND PAUL [June 29th]
Who was the Holy Apostle Paul?
Paul, the Holy Apostle, before his apostolate, was called Saul. He was a Jew by birth, of the Tribe of Benjamin. He was born in Tarsus of Cilicia. His prominent parents, who lived first in Rome but later moved to Tarsus of Cilicia, held the coveted rank of Roman citizens. This is why Paul was also a Roman citizen himself. Mention is made of a daughter in the family. Saul was likewise a kinsman of the holy First Martyr Stefanos (Stephen) and (probably with him) was sent to Jerusalem by his parents to study the law of Moses. Saul became the pupil f the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. His friend and comrade in his studies was Barnabas, who later became an Apostle of Christ. When Barnabas became a Christian he prayed to God, persistently and with teas, that He enlighten Saul’s understanding and turn his heart. Now Saul studied primarily the law of his fathers, becoming a great proponent of it. He, moreover, joined the party of the Pharisees (strict zealots of their heritage, ostentatious in their piety).
At that time, in Jerusalem and in the surrounding cities and lands, the Holy Apostles were spreading the glad tidings of Christ. In doing so, they often had to engage in lengthy disputations not only with the Pharisees and Sadducees (the latter rejected tradition and DID NOT BELIEVE IN THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL), but also with all the Scribes and legal experts of the Jews, who hated and persecuted those who preached Jesus as The Christ. Saul also detested the Holy Apostles and did not even want to hear of anyone preaching about Christ. He scoffed at Barnabas–who had already become an Apostle of Christ–and uttered blasphemy against Jesus Christ. When the Holy First Martyr Stefanos was being stoned by the Jews, Saul not only failed to show any pity for one of his own blood who was being put to death, though innocent but EVEN APPROVED THE MURDER AND STOOD GUARD OVER THE GARMENTS OF THE JEWS WHO WERE CASTING STONES AT ST. STEFANOS. Afterward, having requested authority from the chief priests and elders of the Jews, he attacked the Church (THE COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS) with even greater rage. He entered into private homes, arresting men and women whom he sent to prison. Not satisfied with persecuting the faithful in Jerusalem, and continuing to breathe in threats and murder against the Disciples of Christ, he set out for Damascus, one hundred and twenty miles away. He had letters from the high priest to the synagogues, that even in Damascus he might seek out any who believed in Christ and have such persons arrested and brought back to Jerusalem. This took place during the reign of Emperor Tiberius [A.D. 14-37].
But when Saul drew near to Damascus, a light powerful and blinding, suddenly flashed around him from heaven, so that he fell to the ground. He "HEARD A VOICE SAYING TO HIM, ‘SAUL SAUL, WHY PERSECUTES THOU ME?’ And he said, ‘WHO ARE THOU, LORD?’ And the Lord said, ‘I AM JESUS WHOM THOU PERSECUTEST, BUT RISE UP AND ENTER INTO THE CITY, AND IT SHALL BE TOLD THEE WHAT IS NEEDFUL FOR THEE TO DO’ [Acts 9:4-6]. In Saint Paul’s later summation before king Agrippa, he describes further this saving experience: "AT MIDDAY, IN THE WAY, I SAW, O KING, A LIGHT FROM HEAVEN, ABOVE THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE SUN, SHINING ROUDN ABOUT ME ND THOSE TRAVELING WITH ME. AND AFTER ALL OF US FELL DOWN TO THE GROUND, I HEARD A VOICE SPEAKING TO ME AND SAYING IN THE HEBREW LANGUAGE, ‘SAUL, SAUL, WHY PERSECUTEST ME? IT IS HARD FOR THEE TO KICK AGAINST THE GOADS.’ AND IS SAID, ‘WHO ART THEE, LORD?’ AND HE SAID, ‘I AM JESUS WHOM THOU PERSECUTEST. BUT RISE UP AND STAND ON THY FEET; FOR I APPEARED TO THEE FOR THIS PURPOSE, TO APPOINT THEE A SERVANT AND A WITNESS BOTH OF WHAAT THOU DIDST SEE AND OF WHAT I SHALL APPEAR TO THEE IN VISIONS, TAKING THEE OUT FOR MYSELF FROM THE PEOPLE AND THE NATIONS, TO WHOM NOW I SEND THEE FORTH, TO OPEN THEIR EYES, IN ORDER TO TURN THEM ABOUT FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT AND FROM THE POWER OF SATAN TO GOD, IN ORDER TO RECEIVE FORGIVENESS OF SINS AND AN INHERITANCE AMONG THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN SANCTIFIED BY FAITH THAT IS IN ME" [Acts 26: 13-18].
Now the soldiers who were accompanying Saul were also stricken with awe, and, they stood blinded; they heard the voice speaking to Saul, but could see no one. Following the Lord’s command, Saul arose from the ground. Though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. His bodily eyes were blind, but HE BEGAN TO SEE WITH THE EYES OF HIS SOUL. Saul’s companions and aides led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. He remained in that city for three days, unable to see anything with his bodily eyes. IN HIS REPENTANCE, HE NEITHER ATE NOR DRANK ANYTHING. But he did give himself to continual prayer that the Lord might reveal to him His will.
Saint Bede comments on how this blindness led to vision. "By no means would Saul have been able to see well again unless he had first been fully blinded. Also, WHEN HE HAD REJECTED HIS OWN WISDOM, WHICH WAS CONFUSING HIM, HE COULD COMMIT HIMSELF TOTALLY TO FAITH. Saint Ephraim shows how the injury was for good: "Saul’s impairment did not result from our compassionate Lord, Who spoke humbly there, Rathe, it was the result of the intense light that shone forth here. THIS LIGHT WAS NOT A PUNISHMENT THAT BEFELL SAUL ON ACCOUNT OF THE THINGS HE HAD DONE. IT INJURED HM WITH THE INTENSITY OF ITS RAYS, AS HE HIMSELF SAID…MOREOVER, IF THE SUN HERE BELOW, OF THE SAME NATURE AS OUR EYES HERE BELOW, CAN DO HARM TO THEM WITH ITS INTENSITY, HOW MUCH MORE CAN A LIGHT FROM ABOVE, OF THE SAME NATURE AS THE THINGS FROM ABOVE, DO HARM WITH ITS INTENSITY TO ONE WHO IS BELOW, WHO IS NOT OF ITS NATURE AND WHO LOOKS AT IT SUDDENLY? HOW MUCH WOULD THE BRILLIANCE OF THAT LIGHT BE FOR ONE WHOSE EYES HAD NEVER BEEN ACCUSTOMED TO IT? Saint Bede adds that "since Saul had NOT BELIEVED that the Lord had conquered death by rising on the third day, he was now taught by his own experience of the replacement of three days of darkness by the return of the light."
There lived in Damascus the Holy Apostle Ananias. The Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, ‘Ananias,’ and he said, ‘Behold, I am here, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a Tarsian, by name Saul; for behold, he prayeth [Acts 9:10-11]. The Lord then added that Saul also had seed Ananias in a vision. He beheld how Ananias came in and laid his hand on him, so that he might recover his sight. Thus Christ directed Ananias TO ENLIGHTEN THE EYES OF SAUL’S BODY BY TOUCHING THEM, AND THOSE OF HIS SOUL BY HOLY BAPTISM. "But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many concerning this man, how many bad things he did to Thy saints in Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all those who call upon Thy name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go thy way for this one is a vessel of election to Me, to bear My name before the Nations and kings, and the sons of Israel. For I will show him how much it is necessary for him to suffer for My name’s sake’ [Acts 9:13-16].
Ananias went away and entered into the house, where he laid his hands upon him and said, "Saul, brother, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to thee in the way in which thou were coming, hath sent me forth, in order that thou mightiest recover sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit [Acts 9:18]. Straightway, as if scales fell from Saul’s eyes, he both recovered sight forthwith and rose up and was baptized. He also received food and was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the Disciples in Damascus. Forthwith, he began proclaiming Christ in the synagogues: THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD. ALL THOSE WHO HEARD WERE AMAZED, AND WERE SAYING ABOUT SAUL, "THIS IS THE ONE, IS IT NOT, WHO RAVAGED THOSE WHO CALLED UPON THIS NAME IN JERUSALEM AND HAD COME HERE FOR THIS, THAT HE MIGHT BRING THEM BOUND TO THE CHIEF PRIESTS" [Acts 9:21].
Saul, filled with holy zeal, grew increasingly stronger in the Faith and brought to consternation the Jews who lived in Damascus, proving to them that Jesus IS THE PROMISED MESSIAH. (Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
"Glory Be To GOD
_ Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George